What Slow Response Time Says About Your Pitch

Twitter, the omnipotent panacea for the PR industry does have one important thing going for it: it’s a steam valve for frustrated journalists. Yes, you should listen and learn their tastes and preferences.

Prompted by this tweet from syndicated columnist Anita Bruzzese (via Valleywag) I felt it high time to tell you what might be going through the mind of a journalist on the other end of your pitch:

“If you r a PR person & promote someone as a source to me, the person needs to be ready to talk ASAP. Waiting days to hear back is no good.”

I will predicate this post by saying: I get it. I understand how busy PR people are, and I understand that the sometimes ego-killing task of pitching the media is often pushed down to the lowest rungs of the team. And, it is ok to say: “I don’t know. I’ll have to call you back”. I also understand that a happy-happy-fun pitch can sometimes land in the inbox of a journalist on the hook already with something negative connected to your client, that you may or may not know is brewing.

There is a difference between proactive pitches, and unsolicited queries from the media. The latter affords the PR person more power to opt out or deflect as needed. The spectrum or response is something like this:

15-30 minutes: I am connected to the info you need.

1-2 hours: There was slight fuss here over how to bend the answer in to something positive, but I got it. Or, this had to go up the foodchain.

4 hours with a mild fumfer: I’m game but please don’t flame us. I wrestled to get something for you.

4 hours with a nervous stymie: You’re on to something.

4 hours with an arrogant stymie: If you run this, I may deny access to said company in the future. Or, “After all I’ve done for you!”

Next morning with no stories published: I don’t care or am too disorganized.

Next morning with many stories already published: Sorry, we went with better ink.

Multiple days or weeks: Pathological ineptitude.

The good news is there are ways to quicken response time:

Continued after the jump:

Sit and look at the pitch. Read it a few more times. Read it while wearing a fedora with a “Press” tag in the brim. Would it make sense to you if you had no pre-conceived notions about the topic? Might it aggravate you if you did?

Google & Google News search your client, the sector, and the competition. What questions are begged by the results? If something jumps out at you it will be painfully obvious to a journalist. Did you intentionally obscure information for the sake of getting the pitch or release approved? Go back and fix it. Calmly explain the risks of using it as-is. Your boss may have been too busy to deal with the details the first time around. Try again. Explain that you’ve read the bylines of your A-list and know they are likely to see the same holes. If you can’t sell the revision to your client, someone above you should. Consider pitching less people. A few well-selected articles with the tone you want will propagate in a way that will be celebrated.

For a higher level of difficulty, use the pitch you want anyway, get the coverage it deserves and ask forgiveness later.

If you choose to use the blunt instrument of a BCC pitch to hundreds of people (you know who you are), be prepared. Or don’t. But don’t expect love–especially from bloggers–who can and will use the pitch against you for the sake of adding layers upon layers of scorn upon your client and perhaps even you. See blogs like Consumerist, Gawker and Valleywag and people like poor Ms. Lois Whitman for examples. If you’re ok with SEO-optimized heaps of scorn so are we. This is where I’m counterintuitive: there are times when it works, and is worth the hit. See my review of The Dirty Little Secrets of Buzz for advice on creating a stink.

I’ve argued before that PR people are all public figures now. Write airtight pitches, be appropriately responsive and go forth and prosper.